Girl among five killed as strong earthquake hits Croatia

Soldiers inspect the remains of a building damaged in an earthquake in Petrinja, Croatia

A strong earthquake has hit central Croatia, destroying buildings and sending panicked people fleeing into rubble-covered streets in a town south east of the capital Zagreb.

Authorities said five people were killed and at least 20 were injured.

The European Mediterranean Seismological Centre said a magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit 46 kilometres (28 miles) south east of Zagreb.

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Strong earthquake rattles Croatia
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Strong earthquake rattles Croatia
A member of Croatian Special Forces wearing a suit with dust takes a break from cleaning rubble from damaged buildings in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6,4 on December 29, 2020. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris. Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, as a girl was reported dead. (Photo by Damir SENCAR / AFP) (Photo by DAMIR SENCAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Croatian soldiers, firefighters and residents walk next to damaged buildings in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6,4 on December 29, 2020. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris. Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, as a girl was reported dead. (Photo by Damir SENCAR / AFP) (Photo by DAMIR SENCAR/AFP via Getty Images)
A picture shows a car damaged by the rubbles of a collapsed building in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6,4 on December 29, 2020. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris. Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, as a girl was reported dead. (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC / AFP) (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
A man walks next to rubble and damaged buildings in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6,4 on December 29, 2020. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris. Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, as a girl was reported dead. (Photo by Damir SENCAR / AFP) (Photo by DAMIR SENCAR/AFP via Getty Images)
A picture shows the rubbles of damaged buildings in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6,4 on December 29, 2020. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris. Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, as a girl was reported dead. (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC / AFP) (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
Croatian soldiers clean rubble in a street next to damaged buildings in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6,4 on December 29, 2020. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris. Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, as a girl was reported dead. (Photo by Damir SENCAR / AFP) (Photo by DAMIR SENCAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Croatian soldiers stand next wreckage and damaged buildings in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6,4 on December 29, 2020. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris. Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, as a girl was reported dead. (Photo by Damir SENCAR / AFP) (Photo by DAMIR SENCAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Croatian soldiers and people clean rubble next to damaged buildings in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6,4 on December 29, 2020. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris. Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, as a girl was reported dead. (Photo by Damir SENCAR / AFP) (Photo by DAMIR SENCAR/AFP via Getty Images)
People stand next to the rubbles of damaged buildings in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6,4 on December 29, 2020. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris. Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, as a girl was reported dead. (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC / AFP) (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
This photograph taken on December 29, 2020, shows the wreckage of a car and damaged buildings in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6,4. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris. Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, as a girl was reported dead. (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC / AFP) (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
Croatian soldiers walk on wreckage next to damaged buildings in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6,4 on December 29, 2020. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris. Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, as a girl was reported dead. (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC / AFP) (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
This photograph taken on December 29, 2020, shows the wreckage of a car and damaged buildings in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6.4. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris. Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, as a girl was reported dead. (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC / AFP) (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
This photograph taken on December 29, 2020, shows the wreckage of a car and damaged buildings in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6.4. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris. Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, as a girl was reported dead. (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC / AFP) (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman reacts next to buildings damaged in an earthquake in Petrinja, Croatia, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. A strong earthquake has hit central Croatia and caused major damage and at least one death and 20 injuries in a town southeast of the capital Zagreb. (AP Photo)
People walk through the rubble from buildings damaged in an earthquake in Petrinja, Croatia, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. A strong earthquake has hit central Croatia and caused major damage and at least one death and some 20 injuries in the town southeast of the capital Zagreb. (AP Photo)
A view of buildings damaged in an earthquake in Petrinja, Croatia, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. A strong earthquake has hit central Croatia and caused major damage and at least one death and some 20 injuries in the town southeast of the capital Zagreb. (AP Photo)
A rescuer walks past a building damaged in an earthquake in Petrinja, Croatia, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. A strong earthquake has hit central Croatia and caused major damage and at least one death and some 20 injuries in the town southeast of the capital Zagreb. (AP Photo)
Residents gather outside after an earthquake, at a square in downtown Zagreb, Croatia, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. A strong earthquake hit Croatia on Tuesday, with some injuries reported as well as considerable damages to roofs and buildings southeast of the capital. (AP Photo/Filip Horvat)
A view of remains of a car covered by debris and buildings damaged in an earthquake in Petrinja, Croatia, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. A strong earthquake has hit central Croatia and caused major damage and at least one death and 20 injuries in a town southeast of the capital Zagreb. (AP Photo)
A resident takes a photograph of the damage caused by an earthquake in Sisak, Croatia, Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. A moderate earthquake has hit central Croatia near its capital of Zagreb, triggering panic and some damage south of the city. There were no immediate reports of injuries. (AP Photo)
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Reports said it caused widespread damage in the hardest-hit town of Petrinja.

The same area was struck by a 5.2 quake on Monday.

Officials said a 12-year-old girl died in Petrinja, a town of some 25,000 people.

Another four people were killed in villages near the town, according to the state HRT television.

At least 20 people were admitted to hospital, two with serious injuries, officials said.

"The centre of Petrinja as it used to be no longer exists," Croatia's state HRT television reported, saying people remained inside collapsed buildings.

"My town has been completely destroyed. We have dead children," Petrinja mayor Darinko Dumbovic said in a statement broadcast by HRT TV.

"This is like Hiroshima – half of the city no longer exists."

Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenkovic and other government ministers arrived in Petrinja after the earthquake.

"The biggest part of central Petrinja is in a red zone, which means that most of the buildings are not usable," Mr Plenkovic said.

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, sixth left, and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, seventh left, walk past damaged buildings in Petrinja, Croatia
President Zoran Milanovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic walk past damaged buildings in Petrinja (AP)

He said the army has 500 places ready in barracks to house people, while others will be accommodated in nearby hotels and other available places.

"No-one must stay out in the cold tonight," the prime minister said.

Officials later toured a damaged hospital in the nearby town of Sisak, which was also badly hit by the earthquake.

Mr Plenkovic said the hospital's patients will be evacuated in army helicopters and in ambulances.

Health officials said a baby was delivered in a tent in front of the hospital in the aftermath of the earthquake.

A car covered by debris and buildings damaged in an earthquake in Petrinja, Croatia
A car covered by debris and buildings damaged in Petrinja (AP)

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter that she had spoken to Mr Plenkovic and instructed an envoy to travel to Croatia as soon as possible.

As a Mediterranean country, Croatia is prone to earthquakes, but not big ones.

The last strong quake struck in the 1990s when the picturesque Adriatic coast village of Ston was destroyed.

Regional TV channel N1 reported live on Tuesday from Petrinja that a collapsed building had fallen on a car.

A damaged roof caused by an earthquake in Sisak, Croatia
A damaged roof caused by an earthquake in Sisak, Croatia (AP)

The footage showed firefighters trying to remove the debris to reach the car, which was buried underneath.

A man and a small boy were eventually rescued from the car and carried into an ambulance.

Fallen bricks and dust littered the streets, and many houses were completely destroyed.

The Croatian military was deployed in Petrinja to help with the rescue operation.

Croatian seismologist Kresimir Kuk described the earthquake as "extremely strong", far stronger than another one that hit Zagreb and nearby areas in the spring.

He warned people to keep out of potentially shaky, old buildings and to move to the newer areas of the city because of the aftershocks.

Residents gather outside at a square in central Zagreb after an earthquake
Residents gather outside in central Zagreb after an earthquake (Filip Horvat/AP)

In the capital, people ran out into the streets and parks in fear.

Many were reportedly leaving Zagreb, ignoring a travel ban imposed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The earthquake was felt throughout the country and in neighbouring Serbia, Bosnia and Slovenia.

It was even felt as far away as Graz in southern Austria, the Austria Press Agency reported.

Authorities in Slovenia said the Krsko nuclear power plant was temporarily shut down following the earthquake.

The power plant is jointly owned by Slovenia and Croatia and located near their border.

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